I’m always looking for a way to live a greener, less wasteful and more valuable life. If you purchased and read my book, The Frugalista Files, you would know how I had to learn to turn off my lights at night. I saved money in the process! So, when Edward Humes, author of the hot new book, Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair With Trash, followed me on Twitter, I simply had to have him on the blog. We must do better to save the environment and our wallets!! Check out my interview with Edward – who is a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist- and see you on Twitter @frugalista for a live chat with Edward at 8pm est. tonight!
Q&A with Edward Humes on Less Wasteful Living
What made you want to write the book?
Everybody knows waste is a problem. But did you know trash is now America’s biggest export? That one of the tallest structures in Los Angeles is a mountain of garbage? That the average American is on track to make 102 tons of trash in a lifetime, twice what we were rolling to the curb in 1960?
Garbology began with a simple question: Is there a way back from our disposable economy, this addiction to waste? The short answer is: yes. I found a growing number of families, communities, and businesses doing just that — cutting waste and prospering in the process.
You always hear people talk about recycling, but that has its own
set of issues. Is recycling a sham? Tell us more about “refusing” trend.
Recycling is no sham — it’s an important piece of the war on waste. It’s just not the best piece. Recycling itself creates waste — it’s a kind of last resort, better than the landfill, but only just. Compared to refusing, reducing and reusing, recycling is a very inefficient way of dealing with waste, and often can’t be done cost-effectively. Recycling actually encourages waste, easing the conscience of consumers who can feel free to buy wasteful products such as bottled water (which really is a sham), knowing the empties will be recycled and believing, falsely, that recycling solves the problem of waste.
Refusing to buy wasteful products is a far better strategy. There’s nothing rude or wrong about saying no to disposable products and packaging, or to refusing unwanted catalogs and junky promotional giveaways. Refusing wasteful items creates a market force for being less wasteful; accepting the fruits of the disposable economy only encourages more waste. Here’s just two facts that should make anyone enthusiastic about refusing: 30% of what we throw away consists of containers and packaging — instant trash. And 43% of U.S. mail is junk mail. We are paying for all that waste, and getting nothing for it. The government even subsidizes junk mail by charging less for it than for regular mail.
Please tell us how creating less waste is wealth creating! We Frugalistas love wealth!
Being less wasteful is a great strategy for saving money. Composting food waste is a cost-free way to fertilize your garden, lower your waste footprint, and save money. Try purchasing food and other products in bulk with your own containers, or use simple cleaners such as vinegar and Castile soap instead of the dozen or so chemically intensive, heavily packaged, and much more expensive cleaning products most Americans buy.
Look deeper and see the embedded waste. The NRDC reports that the average cable TV box can never be shut off and consumes more electricity than the average refrigerator. TVs, stereos, computers, cell phone chargers — all such products constantly waste electricity even when they are turned off. This rampant waste contributes to climate change and drives up home utility bills. Such poorly designed products, known as “vampire electronics,” should be banned in my opinion, but the immediate solution for the average homeowner is to unplug stuff, or buy some power strips that have remote controls or automatically shut-offs. If all vampire electronics in the U.S. were eliminated, it would save energy equivalent to the output of 20 typical electric power plants.
Should we stop using beauty products like nail polish and make up?
Not at all. There are eco friendly, non-toxic alternatives for all cosmetics, even nail polish (but be careful, some of them are frauds, too). And many personal care products like shampoo can be bought in bulk form — by the gallon, usually — which cuts packaging waste and costs dramatically. I’ve recently ditched disposable razor cartridges, which have obscene amounts of packaging and are really expensive, and switched to a stainless steel safety razor and standard double edge blades, which are a fifth of the price, come in a package the size of a matchbook, and work great. Plus the razor itself is retro cool. That’s just one of many instances were the new and “improved” disposable version is costlier, but no better, than the old, less wasteful version.
What are some fabulous tips for living waste free? We know about
composting! Anything not related to dirt?
Refuse. From unwanted mail-order catalogs to grossly over-packaged produce, just refuse them. Say no to promotional key chains and tchotchkes that come free at conferences and fundraisers. You know it’s junk, and accepting it just encourages more. Refuse.
Buy Used and Refurbished. Keep resources out of the waste stream, save money.
Stop Buying Bottled Water. It’s a waste and a fraud. Americans pay more per ounce for bottled water than gasoline, yet throw away 650 water bottles a second.
No Plastic Grocery Bags. One-use bags are the gateway drug of waste. Go reusable.
Buy Wisely, Buy Less. The disposable economy wants you to think about the price at the cash register, not what it costs to own in the long run. That’s how we end up with cheapo DVD players that get trashed in a year and clothes that fade and wear out after a few washes. Saving up for fewer products that are more durable, efficient and higher quality costs less over time and radically reduces waste.
What shocked you most in your research?
The most surprising part of the story is just how wasteful we are without really knowing it — the true numbers are much worse than the official line. Almost as surprising: Being less wasteful is liberating, timesaving, and wealth-creating. Waste is one of the few big societal, economic and environmental problems regular people with ordinary resources can fix.
A few specific factoids shocked me, too:
Trash is America’s top export.
The average American makes 7.1 pounds of trash a day
The country recycles only a quarter of its trash.
America lags behind almost every other developed country in the world on recycling, waste-to-energy, and diversion from landfills.